Saturday, October 5, 2013

To Work or Not To Work: It Was Never Really a Question

My son was sick this week.  My husband stayed home with him Monday because it is easier for him to call in sick than it is for me.  As a teacher, it's a lot of extra work to take a day off, even if you know about it in advance.  Anyway, we sent him back to school on Tuesday.  He had been fever free for 24 hours and seemed okay, other than having a lingering cough.  But Tuesday night, the fever reared its ugly head again.  My husband stayed home with him again on Wednesday and took him to the doctor.  He had bronchitis and was in the beginning stages of developing pneumonia.  Yikes.  I stayed late at school that day and got sub plans ready for the next day, knowing I would most likely be home for the next two days (which I was).

We still had to get up each day to take my daughter, who is two years older than my son, to school each morning.  After we dropped her off and headed back home, I found myself thinking, not for the first time, what my life would be like if I hadn't gone back to work after my son was born.  We would not be in the house we are now.  That is for sure. That's not why I went back. A lot of things, like vacations, would be much harder for us to manage.  That's not why I went back.  Catholic school probably wouldn't be an option.  But that's not why I went back either.

I respect women (and men) who stay at home after their children are born.  I really do, so please don't think this is a knock on them.  There are times I want to be them.  The work you do as a parent is the most important and hardest job in the world.  But I also respect those who don't stay home and go back to work.  Some of us need that work to make us better parents.  My mother was a teacher. She worked before I was born.  She worked until I was seven and my older brother was eleven.  Then she had my younger brother.  She took a couple of years off and went back, teaching until she retired about eleven years ago.  I think this is a big reason why I didn't give up my career after my son was born.  My role model had a career during the formative years of my life.  I respected her for that, even if I didn't love it all the time.  But it wasn't just me that respected her for it.  I could tell that at a very young age.  She had a voice in conversations in our immediate family, extended family, with friends, and out in public.  She was used to dealing with crazy situations and stress with humor, juggling work and home in an admirable way.  People listened when she talked.  They asked her for advice.  They wanted her on their side.  They still do.  She had a say in financial matters in our house. She told me later in my adult years that part of the reason she sat in contract negotiations as the union rep was because she knew that if anything ever happened to my dad, she would have to provide for us with the money she made teaching.  She didn't work just so we could go on vacation or have a nice Christmas.  And that's not why I work either.

Some people who know her might say she didn't earn this respect because she worked, it was just who she is.  But she is who she is at least in part because she worked.  She was validated at work which made feel good about herself.  This in turn made her a great role model for that young girl that was me. There was never any question in my mind growing up that I would go to college, have a career, and a family.  I remind myself of this on days when I feel a little overwhelmed.  If she had the strength to do this, then so do I.  Suck it up and get down to business.   I also have to remind myself of this on days when I feel like I can conquer the world.  Part of that is because of my work.  I hope my daughter sees this in me like I did in my mom.

This post couldn't have come at a better time.  It's her birthday this week.  Happy birthday, Mom!  Thanks for showing me the way.